Damned If I Don't, Damned If I Do
Part Three of The Damned Series


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PART THREE: 20th January 2004
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Chapter Five: The Whiskaway and the Result

Stepping off the bus, Buffy pulled her hood up over the black knit cap she was already wearing. It was really cold out here at night, like colder than 'Sunnydale- during-the-ice-age' cold. She walked briskly to the corner of 635 West and slowed down just a little as she scanned the area. It was still early, only seven-fifty five, so there were plenty of people still about and cars still swept up and down the street. This wasn't exactly what Buffy would call a low-profile meeting place.

A large block of offices took up the corner, some real estate company according to the plaque on the wall. Next door was a red brick building with dozens of well-lit windows. A banner hanging outside advertised the display of Nineteenth century weaponry within.

'Might be worth popping in there first, maybe I can steal some ideas; or some weapons.'

There was an alley between the two buildings as promised and, unsurprisingly, it was pitch black. Ready to reach for her concealed stake if she should need it suddenly, Buffy sighed and stepped into the darkness.

"Hello, I'm here." She called out quietly as she carefully walked deeper into the alley. She kept one hand on the wet, cold bricks to ground herself.

She couldn't see if anything was in there with her not, it was that dark. As she walked almost to the end she thought she could feel another presence there, but that's all it felt like: a presence. She could have just been on edge a little.

"Okay, it's practically eight. You must be in here by now, so get this over with. I'm cold." She called out irritably into the darkness.

It felt like she was waiting for ages, but there was still no answer. Buffy felt a brief flash of anger followed by a deeper feeling of panic that this had all been a set up and that no one was coming to meet her. Maybe right this second, the demon that had phoned her in the afternoon was back at the house devouring her friends. Faith wasn't there either which meant they were completely undefended. Well . . . except for Kennedy, but that didn't exactly reassure Buffy.

Why did she always fall for the decoy?

Turning on the spot, Buffy started back out of the alley. She suppressed the urge to run because of not being able to see a single thing, and who knew what was on the ground in there.

Before she'd taken three steps she was attacked.

Someone pulled something soft but scratchy down over her head. A sack? It smelled of mud and weeds and . . . was that a faint hint of manure too? Ugh, what was going on?

Buffy struggled against the material completely covering her head and shoulders, but her attacker was quick and in seconds had caught both of the Slayer's wrists and pinned them behind her.

"Get off of me." Buffy yelled as she carried on struggling despite the obvious lack of difference it was making. Her voice was muffled by whatever was over her head, but she hoped it could still be heard from the street. Surely someone would come to investigate a woman screaming in an alley?

Her attacker didn't plan on hanging around long enough to find out. Buffy felt her wrists being tied. The bindings were too thin to be rope, but if they were snappable Buffy wasn't going to find out yet. As soon as the knots were tied she felt herself boosted into the air by a hand on her ass.

"Hey!" She cried out indignantly. "Watch what you're grabbing!"

The thing took no notice as it stuck her over its shoulder, its hand keeping up its position on her ass to keep Buffy from sliding off with her continuous wriggling around.

"Who are you?" Buffy demanded as she was carried ...somewhere. "What do you want?"

Neither question was answered. Buffy fell silent and still for a few seconds while she listened for any tell-tale clues as to where they were going or what she was dealing with.

The sounds of heavy footsteps walking swiftly across the slushy alley came from below her. The bag on her head was still muffling everything and the walking was making it rustle too, but she could definitely hear breathing other than her own.

So she wasn't dealing with a vampire, but a lot of demon species still had to breathe. Or her kidnapper could be human. He'd have to be a pretty strong human to have pulled this shit with her, but it wasn't completely inconceivable considering she'd been jumped from behind in absolute darkness.

Human or not, she was kicking some ass as soon as she got herself out of this. Which, thinking about it, wasn't going to happen if she just hung here like a sack of potatoes.

Buffy started to struggle in earnest again, rocking herself from side to side and backwards and forwards, hoping to tip herself off of the bony shoulder she'd found herself on. She knew this wasn't exactly Grade-A plan material, because even if it did work then all she had to look forward to was hitting the icy ground below without her arms to brace her fall and that was going to hurt; but what choice did she have? Let herself be kidnapped like some helpless damsel? A couple of times, Buffy could feel herself tipping and rejoiced while she waited for the ouch, but every time the hand that was firmly on her ass pulled her back up. She'd be having words about that hand before this was all over

Buffy was shocked into stillness again as her kidnapper suddenly dropped down about six foot. What had happened? Had they fallen? They couldn't have because Buffy's position hadn't changed and they were still moving on at a fairly speedy clip, yet she had definitely felt the freefall sensation in her stomach for a couple of seconds there.

Buffy listened hard again. There was splashing sounds rising up to meet her and she had the sense of a closed-in space, and the smell definitely had a more manure-y tang to it now.

Great, she was in a sewer.

"Happy birthday to me!" She sang quietly to herself. She thought she heard her attacker chuckle but it was hard to tell above the splashing and the rumble of cars above their heads. Buffy tried to build on it anyway. "So did you get me a present, evil kidnapper thing?"

Silence apart from the splashing...

"Yeah well don't feel bad." She told it anyway. "No one else bothered much either. Well Xan did, but no one else."

More silence, more splashes.

"So," Buffy's voice hitched as she was bumped about, but she kept up her one-sided conversation. "I don't know if you have any specific plans for me this evening, like, oh I don't know, a ritual sacrifice or just a good old-fashioned killing, but if nothing's set in stone then something involving cake might be nice."

Nothing from beyond the veil, or sack or whatever it was over her head.

"Can you believe they didn't even get me a cake?" Buffy was muttering more to herself now than her chauffeur. "No presents. No cake. No nothing. Faith couldn't even be bothered to stay for dinner."

The hand on her ass gave her a sympathetic squeeze and Buffy knee'd the thing in the chest, or at least tried to. She must have pissed it off a little because she was suddenly swung down and pushed not too gently against a cold, hard wall.

As this move sunk in, Buffy wasted no time in trying to run away, but before she'd gotten two steps she was dragged back again and hoisted back up.

"Hey no fair." Shouted Buffy as her elbow banged painfully off the wall a few times. "You have to at least count to ten before you chase me." Struggling was obviously futile, plus it could be dangerous. They were going upwards now. Straight up, which meant a ladder, which meant further to fall. At least it also meant they were leaving the sewers behind.

The sudden drop in temperature made the sewers below seem almost better. A little warmer, anyway. Buffy could feel herself instantly begin to shiver. Where the hell were they? Ice Hell?

There was bright light around them now too. Not that Buffy could make out a lot from beneath her nice, warm sack. She wished there was more of the scratchy material, enough to cover the rest of her body.

Buffy heard the whoosh as they went through a heavy doorway and then there was sound all around. Music, the kind Faith liked, and chattering. Another sound, sorta scrape-y, that seemed familiar in a way she couldn't define drifted to Buffy's covered ears.

No really, where the hell was she?

"Were the ropes really necessary? I don't think she's gonna like that."

Andrew? What the hell was the villainous little nerd pulling now?

Buffy was set back on her own two feet. As she wobbled and swayed to find her balance, she tugged at the string tying her wrists together. Another voice stood out from the mess of noise around her, and the shock it caused made Buffy forget all about freeing her hands as she stood stock-still, her face a mask of bewilderment beneath her sack-balaclava.

"Hey if you think you coulda done better with the way she wriggles around, then I'll take her back to the alley and you can do the whisk away."

Okay this was too much. Faith and Andrew were working together to ...do what?

Coming back to her senses, Buffy pulled her hands apart hard enough to snap the string holding them together and was just reaching up to free her face as Willow squealed:

"Surprise!" In a slightly lowered voice the Wicca added. "Please don't be mad."

When Buffy could see again, Willow was so close that she was all that the blonde Slayer could see. She was pulled into an enthusiastic hug, which she returned purely for the extra body heat that the red-head represented. It really was cold in here.

"Are you surprised?" Willow asked, pulling back again.

"Pissed might be a better way of putting it." Buffy deadpanned.

"Told you." Andrew said somewhere behind her.

"Happy birthday once again, Buffy." Giles appeared at her side holding a bottle and some glasses. "I assure you I was not informed on the manner in which you would be lured here. I had assumed it would be rather more genteel. Have a glass of champagne."

Xander came from out of nowhere and carefully placed a pointy cardboard hat on her head and handed her a party blower.

"Why's it so cold?" Buffy asked, still slightly stunned as she accepted both a glass of bubbly and the blower thingy.

Xander took her by the shoulders and turned her around.

The large room was dominated by the ice-rink in the centre of it.

"Wow." Buffy breathed, taking it all in.

The ice already had half a dozen people on it, and as Buffy stared, Dawn and her boyfriend skated past the nearest edge, both waving wildly at her. To the right of the ice was the skate rental booth and a changing area and the door that she must have been carried through.

Carried through! She'd almost forgotten that in her awe. It must have been Faith that carried her all this way. No one else would have been able to get the jump on her like that.

Faith's hand had been on her ass for ten whole minutes at least and she hadn't taken the time to appreciate it! Well, she hadn't known so it wasn't her fault.

Faith had known it was her ass when she'd given it a good groping though.

Willow was speaking to her again and Buffy tried to focus. "...tried to get the open air rink at Stanley, but apparently they are too good to hire out for private parties. Her words not mine. But this place is still pretty nice don't you think, and the decorations really help brighten it up..."

Buffy looked up and around at all the decorations her friend was talking about. It looked like Christmas in there. A big banner bearing the words "HAPPY BIRTHDAY BUFFY" was hung over a seating area to the right of the ice. There was a bar behind that and there were several more people she sort of recognised either purchasing drinks or sitting and talking.

"...did a good job, don't you think?" Willow was still talking. "We all helped some, but we didn't do a lot really. Not that we didn't want to but, you know, busy with jobs and stuff, but she really pulled it off. Not that we had any doubts, but this..."

Something filtered through to Buffy's dazed brain. "Who, Wills?"

"Who will what?" The red-head asked, breathless from her babbling.

Buffy chuckled. "No Will, I mean, who did all this if not you? Who are you talking about?"

Willow smiled at her. "Isn't it obvious?"

Well obviously it wasn't obvious or else Buffy wouldn't have been asking. She guessed anyway. "Dawn?"

"Nope."

"Kennedy?" Buffy didn't really believe that, but...

"Nope."

"Mary Poppins?"

Willow nodded sagely. "Yes, that's who it was."

Faith did all this? Faith was Mary Poppins? This was amazing. Her thirteenth birthday party had been just like this, with completely different people obviously, except Dawn; and a completely different place, but the ice looked the same. That birthday had probably been the last good one. Or at least the last one without any major catastrophic event taking place.

Buffy looked about her, but Faith was nowhere to be seen.

"What made her..? I mean, why would Faith go to this much trouble?"

"Well, she told me about the whole best friend thing you two are doing, and she asked me and Xander what kind of thing she should do for your birthday." Willow explained.

"So, it was all your idea really." This was all a little to take in. Faith wasn't exactly Martha Stewart any more than she was Mary Poppins.

"No, it was more like," Xander took up the tale from her other side. "we suggested she throw you a party at the house and she took that idea and rolled it down a very snowy mountain and you get: A giant snowball...with ice."

"And finger food." Andrew called to Buffy as he hobbled past on borrowed skates. "Go help yourself Buffy. Faith and I prepared it together."

"Are you ready to come skate now, Buff, or did you want to get something to eat and a drink first?" Willow asked as she took hold of her arm.

Buffy looked longingly at the ice. How long had it been since she'd last skated? It must have been since the summer after her freshman year at college when Riley had taken her to the rink just outside Sunnydale.

Looking around again, she still couldn't believe Faith had done this for her. Or that she'd disappeared before Buffy could thank her. She still couldn't see the brunette anywhere.

"Okay, let's grab a quick drink to warm us up and then we'll hit the ice." Buffy decided as she threaded her arms through those of her two best friends. A couple of shots of something warm and intoxicating would hopefully quash her phobia of hired skates. She really did have to get herself a new pair sometime.

"And I plan on literally hitting the ice at least once or twice." Xander confided. "I haven't done this since I was eleven."

Willow, on Buffy's other side, started to giggle-snort over whatever memory that conjured up.

"And from that reaction I'm thinking we're in for a good night." Buffy smiled.

Willow calmed herself down a little. "Well it won't be quite the same, unless Faith ordered a pantomime horse too." That one small sentence was all it took to start her off again.

As they reached the bar, Xander pulled his wallet free from his pants. "Will, why don't you go and get Buff's present and I'll get us some drinks."

"Okay." Willow left, still giggling slightly.

"More presents? But I already had muffins and prospectuses and stake-boxes."

"I know, it must be your birthday." Xander grinned happily at her and turned to order.

Before he'd finished being served, Willow was back with a large plain white box.

"Here you go, Buffy." Her best friend presented her with the large box and, gingerly, Buffy took it and gave it an experimental shake.

It felt a little heavy, but nothing vibrated from the inside or tried to break out and strangle her, so she got brave and opened it up. Inside lay a pair of snow white ice-skates. The metal blades glittered in the fairy lights hanging around the bar.

"They're beautiful." Buffy gasped as she took first one and then the other out for a closer inspection.

Xander handed glasses around as he said: "Faith happened to mention that you spent nearly an hour one evening at Matrix complaining about the evils of hired skates, including acute details of various foot fungi-ses. So when she told us she'd gotten this place for tonight, we thought they might be a good idea."

Buffy blushed a little. "It was not nearly an hour." In truth it probably hadn't been more than ten minutes, and as it hadn't had anything to do with sex, Buffy was surprised Faith had even listened to her, let alone remembered it.

"Dawn picked them, but we all chipped in." Willow explained. "Ice-skates are expensive."

"Well these ones certainly are." Dawn had picked out a top of the line pair, that was for sure. Setting her drink down on a table, Buffy sat into the chair next to it and pulled off her boots. She had to try these babies out.

"So you're icing it? Now?" Xander clutched his drink nervously to his chest as he looked from Buffy to the ice. "I think I'll just have a few more of these first. To help with my co-ordination, you know."

"Come on Xander." Willow winked at Buffy and started to pull Xander towards the skate-rental booth on the other side of the room. "The sooner you get on the ice, the sooner you can fall over and the sooner you will have a boo-boo for Melissa to kiss better."

"I guess," Xander brightened up a little. "Actually I probably should get on the ice for a few warm up laps. I'd like to get all my humiliation out of the way before she gets here."

"How come she didn't come with you?" Buffy heard Willow ask as they walked away.

"Oh she's got a ceremony to go to first, but she said she'd be able to get away right after the feast."

Buffy frowned as she wondered what kind of ceremony carpenters feasted at, but her new skates were too cool to be forgotten lightly. After tying up the laces, she stood up and experimented in wobbling over to the ice.

As she went, Buffy said hello to the people around her and thanked them for coming, but the whole time she was looking out for Faith. Where had the brunette gotten to? She must have ducked away somewhere the second she'd dumped Buffy back on her own feet. Why though? Why go to all this trouble and not stick around? Surely she hadn't left completely, which meant she must be hiding somewhere. But where?

Stepping onto the ice brought back a flood of childhood memories for Buffy and, smiling, she let herself indulge in the fantasy that she was just a little birthday girl again as she pushed off and began to glide across the ice for the first time in years.

Within three minutes, Willow and Xander had joined her and the three skated around together. Willow was competent on the ice but not very exciting; she seemed perfectly content to just make slow laps around the rink. Xander wasn't as bad as Buffy had been expecting him to be. True, he had the co-ordination of a five-legged donkey on skates, but with enough arm-flailing he stayed upright all on his own. After a couple of laps he was actually doing pretty good.

Buffy was starting to get the warm, fuzzy feeling inside just from being with her best friends in this carefree way, but she couldn't deny there was still something missing. Okay, not so much something as someone. She was supposed to have a third best friend now, so where the hell was she?

"Will, do you know where Faith went to?" She eventually asked. "I haven't seen her since I arrived. She didn't put her back out carrying me and have to go home, did she?" Buffy was joking, but for all she knew Faith really had gone home.

"Um, she's around." Willow sounded very evasive.

Buffy turned her head to look at Xander. For once, he cracked easier than Willow. "She was changing in the changing room when we were putting on our skates."

"Xander!"

Buffy turned back to Willow again at her exclamation of her friend's name.

"What?" He defended himself. "If I have to skate I don't see why she doesn't. This was all her idea after all."

"Buffy, I'm sure she'll be out in a bit. Stay with us, please. This is nice, don't you think this is nice?" Willow indicated they're joined hands with her head as the trio continued to skate.

Was that just plain old jealousy in Willow's voice or was she trying to hide something? Something Faith was up to maybe. Sighing, Buffy let it go. This was nice. "I'm not going anywhere guys, I just wanted to thank her, that's all."

She felt Willow's clenching fingers relax a little around her own at this and Xander gave her a warm smile, and they continued as they were. For another half a lap anyway, when all of a sudden Kennedy, coming widdershins around the rink, caught Willow around the waist and swept her backwards, making the red-head squeal.

"I'm cutting in." The small Slayer shouted without looking back.

The force of Kennedy's move ripped Willow's hand from Buffy's and caused her and Xander to spin one hundred and eighty degrees on the ice. Buffy only just stopped herself from going down, but she couldn't prevent Xander from going to his knees as his skates went out from under him.

Buffy pulled her hand away from his before he dragged her down with him and watched with an agonised grimace as the momentum he'd picked up from their spin caused him to slide gracelessly into someone's legs. The someone fell on top of him.

Buffy put a hand over her eyes, imagining a pantomime horse in the mix. She looked over at the tangled heap again when she heard her friend exclaim:

"Hi Mel! You made it, and early too."

"Well I couldn't wait for you to sweep me off my feet again." His new girlfriend replied coyly. "I guess we can cross that off the to-do list now."

Buffy smiled at the sickly-sweetness of it all and then had to turn away fast as they kissed hello. Okay, there were kids in here, no need to be quite so enthusiastic. She looked around. Actually there weren't any kids to be seen, but she didn't need those kinds of visuals any more than the younger generation did.

"Well I guess that's over then." She said to herself, realizing her two best friends had inadvertently abandoned her for their respective others. Shrugging, she made to get off the ice and head to the bar.

Before she'd made it all the way to the edge Buffy noticed a commotion gathered around a door she hadn't spotted earlier. It was just down from the bar and probably lead to storage rooms or wherever they kept the ice-machines. It was mostly un-noteworthy except for the commotion.

Buffy watched, trying to make out if her help was needed, or if there was a purely mundane reason for half a dozen people to be gathered around that door.

Before she'd made up her mind, the whole room was plunged into total darkness.

"And here is where we keep up the Buffy-birthday custom." Buffy lamented to herself as she tensed for the attack. "Will these people never learn?"


Chapter Six

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